Living Judaism in the West Bank

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach Israel is a magical country, but to experience one of its greatest wonders you have to … Continued

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Israel is a magical country, but to experience one of its greatest wonders you have to travel out to what the world calls the West Bank and the Bible calls Judea and Samaria. There, its crown jewel is the city of Hebron, first capitol city of the Jewish people and where its patriarchs and matriarchs are buried.

Many Jewish and Christian tourists to Israel skip Hebron, declaring it too dangerous, and indeed four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, were killed there just two weeks ago with another two shot this week. But terrorists dare not determine whether visitors to the Holy Land make pilgrimages to Judaism’s holiest sites, and besides terrorists incidents have declined dramatically and the city, comparatively speaking, is safe.

The first thing you discover about the residents of Hebron, whom the world derisively describes as settlers – as if Jews living in their own ancient capitol are newcomers – is their warmth, friendliness, and hospitality. I arrived with twenty guests and our host, a wise and dedicated communal activist named Yigal, prepared a feast fit for a king. We ate in his Sukka, surrounded by a tranquility and quiet that I, in my busy life, rarely experience. The night air was cool and energizing.

All around us children were playing, utterly carefree, on pristine playgrounds. So many Jews in Hebron have been killed in terror attacks over the years. Yet the residents in general, and the children in particular, live unafraid. They are also liberated from hatred. When their friends die – as did the four two weeks ago – they mourn them, bury them, commemorate them, and get on with their lives. There are no calls for revenge attacks, there are no mass demonstrations braying for Arab blood. Their response, rather, is to demonstrate, in the most peaceful manner, that they are there to stay.

For nearly a thousand years, the Islamic rulers of the Holy Land forbade Jews from entering the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, allowing them to climb only seven steps into the tomb but beating them mercilessly if they rose any higher. When Israel captured the tomb in 1967, Jewish pilgrims came to Hebron, swearing never again to be separated from their origin. As my host explained, even amid the worst terror attacks, property values never decline. There are no fluctuations in the commitment to pray by the graves of those who gave the world monotheism.

Yet these residents have been demonized by the entire world. They face daily character-assassination in the media by those who would decry their simple desire to walk in the footsteps of Abraham. World leaders regularly engage in extreme defamation of families whose only wish it is to raise their children in the Judean hills of King David. President Obama rises at the United Nations and calls for a further moratorium on building in the settlements as if it’s a crime for peaceful people to have children and add rooms to warm and hospitable homes.

Abraham, at whose tomb I prayed with my children tonight, is the father of all peoples, Jew and Arab alike. The Arabs are my brothers, equal children of G-d in every respect. And Arabs and Jews must learn to live peacefully together in the land. Neither group should be asked to abide my a moratorium that stifles the natural expansion of either population. It is not the spiritual-seeking settlers who threaten the peace, but rather the murderous groups of Hezbollah and Hamas, who wish to make all of Israel judenrein.

I spent time tonight in Hebron talking to the brave Israel soldiers – eighteen to twenty years old – who patrol the streets of Hebron to protect the Jewish population from further slaughter. It is a sad commentary on some of my Arab brothers and sisters who live in Hebron that soldiers should be needed to protect children at playgrounds. Yet the soldiers have no rancor in their heart. Indeed, many of them were telling me how they never wish to make the Arab population feel intimidated by their presence and are given strict orders never to appear overbearing. Their mission is not to enforce an Israeli hegemony but to simply stop Jews from being targets.

Just a few yards from the spot where Shalhevet Pass, a ten-month-old Israeli infant, was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper while sitting in her stroller in March, 2001, I danced with my children to celebrate the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

The streets of Hebron were alive with joyous residents dancing to the music of a Jewish mystical hippie band whose flowing locks and mesmerizing music brought gladness to my heart. I was uplifted and joyous to be dancing in a city that in 1929 saw the massacre of 67 Jews and the destruction of nearly all the Synagogues and Jewish buildings. I felt alive and utterly free of fear.

Could it really be that a community who simply wish to live aside the earthly remains of Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, are obstacles to peace? Are 800 Jews in Hebron such a criminal incitement to the 100,000 Palestinians who surround them? And is it fair to characterize religious individuals who have a love for children and large families, and who live without material extravagance or opulence, as irritants?

But don’t take my word for it. The next time you’re in Israel, come and immerse yourself in the city chosen by Abraham as the eternal resting place for a wife he so loved to forever rest in peace.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 23 books and was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium. As host of ‘Shalom in the Home’ on TLC he won the National Fatherhood Award and his syndicated column was awarded the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Newsweek calls him ‘the most famous Rabbi in America.’ He has just published ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books.
  • abrahamhab1

    The Rabbi thesis might have some validity had the “ peace loving” Israelis who simply wish to live near where the patriarch Abraham is buried had not evicted the indigenous population and condemned them, their children and grandchildren to rot in refugee camps around the world. Some who do not know argue that those people left of their own volition. The Israelis being “founders of monotheism” and supposedly worshippers of a Just God would allow those refugees back to their homes and to their lands. They would not even hear of it simply because the founders of present day Israel were mostly atheists who knew more about Marx and Hagel than any of the many ancient Hebrew prophets. Furthermore most of the present day settlers in the West Bank are atheists looking for subsidised housings.

  • Kingofkings1

    “Neither group should be asked to abide my a moratorium that stifles the natural expansion of either population”So what happens, sir, if we suppose a settelement is reached with agreed borders, and one group feels it has outgrown its borders and needs to expand and build just across the line?

  • srk052004

    Boteach, best known as Michael Jackson’s cheerleader, apparently needs a new gig. So now he praises Jews for a passivity under fire that amounts to suicide. He seems to think it is “Jewish” and noble to be helpless.For example:”So many Jews in Hebron have been killed in terror attacks over the years. Yet the residents in general, and the children in particular, live unafraid.”They are unafraid because they expect G-d to protect them, which is an averah (sin). G-d requires that we take action before we can benefit from His assistance.”They are also liberated from hatred. When their friends die – as did the four two weeks ago – they mourn them, bury them, commemorate them, and get on with their lives.”Hatred can itself be liberating. Christians turn the other cheek, but Jews are instructed that if someone comes to slay them, they must arise earlier and slay the killer first. We are not instructed to be sitting ducks or “to get on with our lives.”"Yet the soldiers have no rancor in their heart. Indeed, many of them were telling me how they never wish to make the Arab population feel intimidated by their presence and are given strict orders never to appear overbearing.”Alas, this is largely true. The Israeli elites have no love for Jews, especially those who are Jews-first, not Israelis-first. These elites do not value Jewish life, but only their own fiefs; this is why Muslims are allowed to travel around the tiny Jewish area of Hevron.BTW, I have visited Hevron. I was moved by the remains of dead Jews as well as the Cave of the Patriarchs, but I was infuriated by precisely the passivity that Boteach so admires.Boteach also doesn’t understand that Arabs are NOT brothers to Jews. Even if Arabs descended from Ishmael (which Rambam says is not the case), they are only half-brothers, the wrong half (because Halacha makes the mother the determining factor in lineage). Furthermore, as a rabbi should surely know, a condition of milchemet mitzvah (defensive war) against the “Palestinians” now exists. We are thus commanded to remove all the “Palestinians” from Eretz Israel, not to praise these “Palestinians” as brothers, pander to them, and allow fellow Jews to die for peacenik fantasies. Add to this the fact that we are dealing with Arabs who are also Muslims. If Ishmael is a “rough beast of a man” without Islam, imagine how Islam improves his disposition.Boteach might be well known, but his views have about as much to do with Torah Judaism as Madonna’s.

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